Andy Murray is used to giving his supporters a roller-coaster ride and the 25-year-old Scot took them on a typically bumpy journey yesterday before reaching his destination of No 2 in the world rankings.
Murray’s 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 victory over David Ferrer in a gruelling final of the Miami Masters ensured that he will equal his highest-ever position in the updated rankings list, though he had to dig deep after a typically feisty display by his indefatigable opponent.
Murray, who spent four weeks at No 2 in the late summer of 2009, claimed the 26th title of his career after a remarkable match, played in the most testing conditions, that lasted two hours and 45 minutes. Murray recovered from a ragged first set, failed to serve out for victory in the decider, saved a match point with a forehand that clipped the baseline and eventually won the tie-break 7-1 after the two men had all but fought themselves to a standstill.
The Scot’s second victory in Miami, where he spends much of the year training, was worth $719,160 (about £473,000), which takes his prize-money this year to $2.2m and his career earnings to $27.05m, but the 1,000 ranking points that came with it were of greater significance.
With Murray leapfrogging Roger Federer to take second place behind Novak Djokovic, today’s world rankings list will be the first since November 2003 in which neither Federer nor Rafael Nadal have been in the top two.
While Murray will still be more than 3,000 points behind Djokovic, this could prove to be base camp for his assault on the ultimate mountain. Djokovic has many more points to defend than Murray in the coming weeks and it is not inconceivable that the Scot will become world No 1 this summer.
Murray and Ferrer are two of the finest athletes and best returners in the game, so it was no surprise that the final featured 15 breaks of serve.
Many of the rallies were brutally long as both players defended superbly, though the difficult conditions, including a tricky breeze, meant that there were many more unforced errors than clean winners.
Given the heat and humidity, it was no surprise that both players tired in the final set. Murray, who did not serve well throughout, looked shattered by the end.
Ferrer (right), who will be 31 tomorrow, has extraordinary resilience and had looked the fresher but was cramping in the deciding tie-break.
“It was such a tough match,” Murray said afterwards. “It could have gone either way. Both of us fought as hard as we could and both of us were struggling physically at the end.
“I just managed to fight well at the end. They were incredibly difficult conditions. It was very windy, extremely humid and hot and when you see David struggling physically you know it’s tough.”
The first set was a story of Murray’s missed opportunities. The Scot made 19 unforced errors and took only one of four break points; Ferrer had three break points and took them all. The Spaniard raced into a 5-0 lead, breaking Murray firstly from 40-30 down and then from 40-0 down.
Murray, who had used all three of his challenges by the second point of the fifth game, was frustrated at being unable to seek Hawk-Eye’s assistance towards the end of the set, though he had only himself to blame for letting it slip away after staging a mini-revival. When Murray served at 2-5 he handed the set to Ferrer with two double-faults and two missed forehands.
The Scot’s response, nevertheless, could not be faulted. Murray made the early break in the second set, saved two break points to lead 4-2 and would have won the next game but for his own hesitation in converting what should have been routine put-aways. Ferrer broke to tie the set at 4-4, but Murray responded in kind and served out for the set.
By the start of the third set both men were starting to experience physical difficulties. The first six games all went against serve before Ferrer held firm to lead 4-3.
Murray, who had fallen awkwardly when wrong-footed in the sixth game, appeared to be running on empty, but at 4-4 his superb returns gave him the chance to serve for the match.
Ferrer, however, summoned up the spirit and energy to break once again and when Murray served at 5-6 the Scot had to defend a match point. A big Murray forehand clipped the baseline and Ferrer, who could have continued with the point, made the mistake of stopping and challenging the call, which went in his opponent’s favour.
The first point of the tie-break summed up the match as Murray won it after a remarkable exchange ended with a Ferrer shot hitting the top of the net and just failing to creep over.
When Murray went 5-1 up Ferrer fell to the floor suffering from cramp and after he recovered, the Scot went on to convert the first match point he held with a typically belligerent return of serve.
For all his consistent excellence, poor Ferrer seems destined to remain the player who was never quite good enough to join the Fab Four who have so dominated the sport in recent years. The Spaniard has now met top-five players in finals on 13 occasions – and has lost every time.
Murray, having won his first Masters Series title for 18 months, said it was “the sort of match that I would have lost a couple of years ago”. He added: “I tried to keep fighting. I chased every ball down and made it as hard as possible for him.”
FLYING SCOTSMAN: MURRAY’S RISE
July 2003 First ranking points at Manchester grass-court Challenger.
Aug 2004 Reaches top 500.
Oct 2005 Makes top 100.
Feb 2006 First tour title, in San Jose, earns place in top 50.
Apr 2007 Semi-finals in Indian Wells and Miami earn place in top 10.
Sept 2008 Into top five after first Grand Slam final at US Open.
May 2009 Ranked No 3 for first time in wake of Miami title.
Aug 2009 Makes No 2 for three weeks after winning Montreal Masters
Sept 2012 Climbs back to No 3 after winning US Open.